One of the issues that helped elect President Ronald Reagan in 1980 was the fact that President Jimmy Carter, ironically a Navy veteran, had left the United States military gasping for air with planes that couldn’t fly and ships that couldn’t sail for lack of trained crews or spare parts or both. Reagan would go on the build his 600-ship navy, start development of missile defense, etc. as part of his two-prong strategy of “peace through strength” and “we win, they lose”. It won the Cold War and collapsed the “evil empire” that was the Soviet Union. At Reagan’s urging, the people of East Germany, if not Mikhail Gorbachev himself, tore down that wall in Berlin.
After eight years of Barack Hussein Obama as commander-in-chief, the U.S. military is once again gasping for air and the only thing that is collapsing is our ability to resist rearming old enemies like China and Russia, rogue states like Iran and North Korea, and terrorist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida. That much was made clear as top officials from all the branches of the militarywarned Congress that the once-feared “arsenal of democracy” was rusting away into oblivion:
For decades, the F/A-18 Hornet has been the Navy’s front-line combat jet -- taking off from aircraft carriers around the globe to enforce no-fly zones, carry out strikes and even engage in the occasional dogfight.But the Navy’s ability to use these planes is now greatly hindered as more than 60 percent of the jets are out of service. That number is even worse for the Marine Corps, where 74 percent of its F-18s – some of the oldest in service -- are not ready for combat operations….“Our long-term readiness continues its insidious decline,” Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran testified Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.”
As China builds military bases on man-made islands in the South China Sea, the staggering decline in U.S. naval readiness was made clear when a group of Navy captains testified earlier before an unusual joint hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower and readiness subcommittees. This sad state of affairs is accomplishing what the Japanese Imperial Navy could not – defeat the U.S. Navy and leave the seas increasingly open to hostile adversaries and leaving us increasingly unable to come to the aid of our remaining allies. As the Navy captains testified:
About every three months or so we would get a new schedule” for the submarine USS Albany, said Capt. Gregory McRae, deputy commander of Submarine Squadron Six. “Today, we are looking at a 43-month overhaul for a maintenance period that was supposed to last 28 months.”“Cannibalization” -- pulling scarce spare parts off one ship or plane to fix another about to deploy -- is now routine, the captains testified. For example, the USS Normandy has served as an organ donor for 13 different “mission critical” components over the last 45 days, crippling the anti-aircraft cruiser‘s radar. “I could not possibly surge right now” for an emergency deployment, testified Normandy skipper Capt. Scott Robertson.Naval air forces are in similar straits. Four of the Navy’s 10 carrier air wings are fully manned and equipped, but those four are the ones either deployed or about to deploy, said Capt. Randy Stearns. Getting one of the other six wings ready to go in an emergency would take six to 12 months, “three times as long” as when he was a young officer, Stearns said: “As of today, we don’t have that surge capacity.”Carrier Air Wing One will not have the funds or parts to fly at all for four months, Stearns testified. That will save $9 million to $13 million in the short run, but they’ll never get those months of training back, said Stearns. In the long term, “it’s going to take me three times the amount and three times the cost to get them back up to speed.”Compounding this crisis is the Budget Control Act, “We’ve never caught up” on the maintenance and training cancelled in 2013, said Capt. Stearns. Last year’s budget deal loosened the BCA caps for fiscal year 2016 but kept them $18 billion tighter for 2017.
Not only the Navy is affected. The Army, Air Force, and Marines are all in precarious states, the vice chiefs testified:
Gen. Daniel Allyn, the Army's vice chief of staff, said that only three of the Army's more than 50 brigade combat teams have all the troops, training and equipment needed to fight at a moment's notice.And the Marine Corps, which wants an additional $4.2 billion added to its 2017 budget, warned that the "nation's force in readiness" will have to continue shifting money intended for new weapons to pay current bills.The Air Force is the branch of the military that arguably is in the most dire straits, with aircraft numbers falling from 8,600 in 1991 to 5,500 today. There are 55 fighter squadrons, down from 134, and less than 50 percent of its combat forces are “sufficiently ready for a highly contested fight against peer adversaries,” Air Force Vice Chief Gen. Stephen W. Wilson said in reference to countries like Russia and China.
President Obama left an Army that as it is cannot meet its military readiness requirements, according to retired Army Major Gen. Bob Scales, who noted the hypocrisy of President Obama’s tribute to Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg at the 2014 State of the Union address:
Gen. Bob Scales, a retired U.S. Army major general and former commandant of the U.S. Army War College who is now a military analyst for Fox News, told Greta Van Susteren the day after the State of the Union of the sad state of U.S. military preparedness and expressed a fear it would lead to more Cory Remsburgs."Yeah, it broke my heart," Scales said. "This great guy, Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, think of this, Greta: 10 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in 10 years. What does that say about the overcommitment of our Army? And here is a president who uses him as an icon for the State of the Union."And yet the very service that he comes from, the Army, has 85% of its brigades not combat-ready. It does not have one single developmental program for a combat system at all. Zero."
As Investor’s Business Daily editorialized in 2014, President Obama’s reckless disregard for military readiness has put America’s readiness and national security in dire peril:
We have noted administration plans to cut U.S. troop levels to pre-World War II levels. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno, the former top U.S. general in Iraq, testified last September before the House Armed Services Committee that "these reductions will put at substantial risk our ability to conduct even one sustained major combat operation."Writing in the New York Times, Steve Cohen, a former director of the U.S. Naval Institute, noted that the days of President Ronald Reagan's 600-ship Navy, which helped stymie Soviet expansionism and win the Cold War, is no more than a fond memory."With the U.S. Navy arguably at its smallest since 1917, we don't have many ships that are actually at sea," Cohen says. "Only 35% of the Navy's entire fleet is deployed, fewer than 100 ships."U.S. air power has also been a target of the Obama administration. In June of last year, David A. Deptula, a retired Air Force three-star general and senior military scholar at the Air Force Academy, warned that "in the Air Force alone, more than 30 squadrons are now grounded, along with air crews and maintenance and training personnel."
President Trump was right when he said during the 2016 campaign President Obama has reduced the U.S. military to rubble. He has pledged to eliminate the defense sequestration and reinitiate a policy of peace through strength. It comes not a moment too soon as our adversaries rush to fill the military and strategic vacuum President Obama left behind.
Sharpen our swords. Beating them into plowshares will have to wait.